While widespread availability of search technology is only about 15 years old, its implications continue to accumulate. Work and commerce, medical care and mate finding, crime and education all are being reshaped by an effectively infinite base of information made usable by various types of search, indexing, and related technologies. In addition, search is closely related to substantial changes in how knowledge is generated, stored, and distributed.
It remains to be seen how the search era will be positioned in the grand sweep of human intellectual progress. In the short term, several interrelated facets of search should be noted: context, value, impact, and future constraints.
Search is in many ways the defining tool of the Internet age. Digital data is ever easier to generate, more of our entertainment takes digital form, globally dispersed actors can find each other and coordinate, and the number of sources of information continues to multiply. As we saw in Chapter 6, the long tail of content production requires search and other matching technologies (including word of mouth and algorithmic “if you liked this you might like that” matching).
Many sources of information have been separated from their location. Compare the Internet to national and university research libraries, which required dozens or hundreds of years to assemble, cost millions of dollars to sustain and maintain, and employed large ...